You see, the appointment went really well. The mom and dad both attended, even though we had to stand in the freezing rain, and for the most part the seats were perfectly installed. Until we got to the tether.
The tether is an afterthought to most parents, and I can understand why: it's on the back of the seat (so easily missed) and there's usually not a lot of information on the stickers on the side of the car seat explaining what it is or why it should be used. Often it's stored somewhere out of the way too, so really it can be quite easy to miss. Plus it's not used for most rear-facing seats so when the child turns forward lots of parents just skip it. I've even heard stories from other techs where the parents didn't know what the tether was for... so they took some scissors and cut it off. This was me when I read that:
Typically I am not prone to such incredible bursts of emotions but the tether... the tether is so important! Let me tell you why:
It effectively removes 4-6 inches of forward movement in a crash.
That doesn't sound too impressive but it is the difference between your child's head hitting the seatback in front of it, causing major head trauma, and your child's head NOT hitting the seatback in front of it.
While using the tether is not written into the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, it is strongly recommended to do so. And, depending on your car seat it may be illegal to not use it. If the manual for your car seat specifies that the tether must be used then MI law states you must.
Not all tethers look the same. Some are one strap coming from the center at the top of the car seat, some are Y shaped, and some are V shaped. They will all do the same thing when used correctly.
So how do you use it? Well, I'll tell you!
You have to find the tether anchor location(s) in your vehicle. Not every seating position has one. If you have a sedan, it's going to be on the back dash. If you have a van, it's either on the floor behind the seat or on the reinforced seatback. Trucks, SUVs, and hatchbacks can be a bit tricky, so be sure you always check your vehicle manual. Some are loops, some are exposed metal brackets, and some have flaps over the top to disguise them when not in use.
Hook the tether over the top of the anchor, making sure there are no twists in the straps, and remove the slack.
That's it! So simple, right?! They are so easy to use but incredibly crucial to the safety of your child. Remember: not every seating location will have a tether anchor! It's important to choose a seating location with one if you plan on putting a forward facing car seat there, though. If you have trouble locating your tether anchor or hooking the tether strap to it, please contact a CPST for help.
So getting back to the clients I mentioned in the beginning of the article: I showed them the tether, how to use it, gave a brief explanation of why it's so important, and sent them on their way. They couldn't believe they thought they were doing everything right and it turned out they weren't.
It just goes to show that even if you think you've got it all down and your child is as safe as can be, it never hurts to have another set of trained eyes look everything over.